(you can click on all pictures to enlarge)
We followed the signs for parking which happened to be in a parking garage behind the aquarium which is a no go for us being in a 12 passenger van. So I hopped out and went to guest services to inquire about where else we could park (it's a busy little town so I would've had no clue where else we could've parked). The gal at guest services said we could park in the bus parking right behind the building, perfect!!
Let me tell ya, this place is bigger inside that you realize! When you first walk in, you can see you are on what looks like the second floor with an open atrium overlooking part of the floor below.
(this pic taken by one of my kids)
The way this aquarium was laid out was in a natural flow pattern, you didn't have to wonder what to go see first, you just kept walking and were guided to see all the displays and exhibits. In my opinion, this kept crowding limited as everyone flowed through the aquarium in the exact same pattern. Everything is stroller & wheelchair family as there aren't any steps between exhibits, just ramps which I was thankful for as we had 1 of our little ones in a stroller. Also when we arrived, we were handed a schedule of activities that were taking place throughout the day that listed times & locations of different diving and feeding shows. We were so busy seeing the displays that it never timed out for us to hit a show.
I can't begin to list all the cool aquatic displays we saw, so many neat fish from small to huge! We appreciated that by each of the tanks was a plaque that told you what you were looking at and some facts about each animal. The homeschooling mom in me loves when we can throw in some education along with the fun side of things!
There was a neat section of the aquarium that as you walked through, you had the feeling of being under water just by the way the lighting was. (this picture doesn't do it justice).
Eventually another area we arrived at was a huge tank where you could look down and see sharks & stingrays (there might've been other animals but that's what we saw while standing there.)
Even my recently turned 2 year old loved seeing all the fish! She would make fish faces and get excited each time she saw new ones!
Not only are there display tanks but several interactive areas. There was one section where we saw & learned how the aquarium filters their water, an area where you could touch & pick up horseshoe crabs, a large fish that had buttons on the different organs that lit up and told you about them, tanks where the kids could go in the center & put their head up the middle simulating the feeling of being in the tank surrounded by fish.
The tank full of sting rays were fun to watch as they swam around. There were all different sizes and even different colored ones. A few of them would swim right up against the glass almost as if they were showing off.
There was also 1 room dedicated to a dinosaur display. From what I gathered, this was something new and might only be there for a limited time (though I am not for sure on that part of it). We weren't in there too long as my 2 year old wasn't quite sure what to make of the huge moving dinosaurs and roaring sounds. But from the little I saw, there was factual displays along with the animatronics and some video clips. (funny, as I'm sitting here writing this & she sees the dino picture, she is roaring so she obviously remembers what she saw!!)
When we got about two-thirds of the way through the aquarium, we came across a cafe area. While we weren't hungry and didn't stop, I did take a glance at the menu and they had several meal deals listed for both adults & children as well as a place to sit down to eat.
Towards the end of the aquarium there was a penguin playhouse. You saw a bunch of them inside, where there was even a place to stick your head up in the middle of their habitat! You then could walk outside on a porch that overlooked downtown Gatlinburg but it also had a display of the penguins swimming in water where you were eye level with the water. The red bands on their arms showed the name of each penguin. There was also a small nursery that houses baby penguins. There was one there while we were there but due to the glass, I couldn't get a good picture as the penguin was towards the back of the room.
(yes, that's my 2 yr old using my phone to take pictures of the penguin swimming right in front of her!)
I saved our most favorite part of the aquarium to mention last. I knew going into it that there was an underwater tunnel you can walk through to see sharks and other fish. It sounded neat but I didn't expect a whole lot. Well let me tell ya, it blew us away! First of all, the tunnel contains a conveyor belt you can stand on (and the stroller fit as well) so you can concentrate on just looking up and all around and not worry about walking (and potentially tripping or running into someone!) though there is also a place to walk if you don't want to stand on the conveyor belt. And the second part was how long this tunnel went. It weaved all around this tank and lasted for quite awhile, which was a pleasant surprise! There was no lack of sharks, we saw plenty swim right against not only the glass next to us but right above our heads as well. We saw plenty of other fish as well.
(I love how Olivia is looking up at the sharks here)
A huge jellyfish, Ava & I in front of the tank overlooking the sharks, a stingray in stingray bay that you could lean over the side and touch, and 2 huge Japanese fighting crabs (seriously, from leg to leg they were like 3 feet wide!)
At the end of the aquarium there is a large gift shop before you exit the building.
We really enjoyed our time at Ripley's Aquarium and loved seeing all the different aquatic life, it was definitely worth the time we spent there! (They even have a facebook page you can check out.) If you are vacationing anywhere near Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge TN, check out this aquarium for a fun family day! (They also have an aquarium in Myrtle Beach and one opening next month in Canada).
Stop back soon for more posts on the rest of our Tennessee trip!
My family was given tickets to this aquarium in order to facilitate this review of my honest opinions. No other compensation was given. All opinions and pictures are those of mine & my family. This post & photos are protected under the copyright law.